I know it’s nature but….

….I don’t have to like it.

As the day broke on this chilly morning, I sat at the kitchen table and observed at least two dozen bluebirds descending upon the rooftops and chimneys of neighboring homes. Eureka! This called for another cup of coffee and a camera to try and capture the migration moment. I love it when a day starts like this one!

Bluebirds Dec. 2017

I watched wave after wave of bluebirds arrive to dine on mealworms, sunflower seeds, and to take a sip from the still icy birdbath.

Bluebirds

And I smiled as I drank my coffee and clicked away with my camera through the window.

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The bluebirds’ arrival encouraged the arrival of a large number of goldfinches that swarmed and drank and ate. Oh, such fun avian activity adding to our ever present juncos, cardinals, blue jays, nuthatches, titmouse and chickadees. It was a bird party.

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But the party ended suddenly. I glanced up and not a bird to be seen. That is except one. And that one was definitely NOT invited to the party. That party crasher was sitting on the bluebird house.  I had to admire its beauty but hoped it wouldn’t stay.

Seconds later, I saw my blue jay dart out of a nearby shrub screaming and the cooper’s hawk was just feet behind. I hope the jay made it to safety. I know it’s nature but I don’t have to like it.

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Dark-eyed Junco

It’s bird migration time and things are happening in our little spit of land. According to Chris Bosak, Birds of New England, Labor Day weekend was a good time to fill the feeders again for the fall and winter birds. So I filled the feeder with hulled black oil sunflower seeds and the welcome mat was officially rolled out for the migratory songbirds.

Due to an invasion of breeding house sparrows this summer, I fed only the insect eaters, the robins, bluebirds, phoebes, and chipping sparrows nibbling on what fell beneath the feeder… no seeds at all, just meal worms.  Those pesky house sparrows turned their noses up at the meal worms and have exited the neighborhood, probably living inside Home Depot or around McDonalds for the winter. We are ready for the next wave!

Our first winter visitors arrived two mornings ago. The white-throated sparrow and their snowbird companions, the dark-eyed junco, are perhaps the best harbinger of winter. They arrived overnight and I spotted the newcomers at dawn cleaning up fallen seeds beneath the feeder.

junco (Junco hyemalis) female with sunflower kernel

Female junco with sunflower kernel

The junco is a fairly nondescript bird, gray above and a white belly. The female is generally paler with a mixture of brown in the plumage. Our flock should number 20 or more by the end of October.

Juncos are among my favorite little birds because they entertain me with their antics all winter. Their scientific name is hyemalis, Latin for ‘winter,’ an appropriate name for no snowstorm, blizzard, or arctic day can keep them away.  Their feisty interactions competing for seed under the feeder (and on the feeder) make me smile. They run, they hop, they flit, and they scratch as they battle each other for seed on the frozen ground or snow. Look for them to appear beneath your feeder around here very soon.

A Fine Balance

October can be an exciting month for birdwatching. We’ve watched wave after wave of migrating songbirds and shore/water birds pass through this area of southern New Hampshire. Many birdwatchers travel to migratory hot spots to watch the action but we believe we have a good seat right here on the 50-yard line to watch all the birding action we desire.

We’ve followed ducks, geese, vireos, sparrows, warblers, bluebirds, cedar waxwings, hawks and more, stop to rest and dine for a few days before taking off again. One new visitor I’ve especially enjoyed watching this week is the Northern Flicker, the Yellow-shafted Flicker (Colaptes auratus), a larger bird related to the woodpeckers and sapsuckers. Not an uncommon bird, but it’s fun to watch. It stands out on the horizon as it swoops and dips in flight, its large white rump visible only in the air. I admired his distinctive spotted plumage as it fed on ants and other insects on the ground beneath the white pines .

October is also great time to observe migrating hawks that land in the pines, perch on tree limbs, or circle the salt marsh looking for food. As in Virginia, a hawk we often see is the the Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii.) that scans the horizon from its favorite perch in nearby trees. What is the Cooper’s Hawk looking for? Birds. And what did the last Cooper’s Hawk find? Yep, that’s right. Our Northern Flicker nourished the hunter so it could continue its journey south.

It’s always a bit unsettling for me when I discover a fluff of a bird that was. But understanding nature in its fullest is understanding the delicate cycle and balance of the natural world.

Windy weather in New Hampshire yesterday ushers in a cold front today, perfect weather for spurring on bird migration. We’ll have our binoculars (and warm coats) ready.

Holiday Tradition: Christmas Bird Count

If you love being in the great out-of-doors and if you love birding and being with like-minded friends, then the Christmas Bird Count is the perfect wintertime activity for you. This National Audubon Society sponsored event, begun on Christmas Day in 1900, collects data for a study of the long-term health and status of bird populations across North America. Our local team of a dozen volunteers walked and drove within the 15-mile radius of our assigned area of the count circle in Mathews and Gloucester Counties on Sunday (no hunters!), January 2. The combined information is available on a CBC database on the Audubon website where you can view historical counts, track a species, check maps or make a graph.

Fog and drizzle over the Ware River

Yesterday’s weather forecast was favorable: a high of 57 degrees, morning showers predicted to end when a front pushed through in the afternoon. This seemed to be an improvement over a year ago when 19 degrees and howling winds caused my camera to freeze after the first few shots. However we were disappointed to awake in the wee hours to drizzle and heavy fog on this year’s 110th Christmas Bird Count. Most of our counting takes place over rivers and creeks and marshes where it was difficult to see much at all early in the day.

Fog rolled in the pre-dawn light, then lifted for brief moments, allowing us to count and estimate thousands of birds on the waterways of Gloucester.

Belleville Creek, normally a haven for ducks, geese, kingfisher, woodpeckers

Heavy fog on low lands obscured most of the water and shore.

We hear them. We just can't see them.

Hampered by high tides, volunteers traverse makeshift bridges

A glimmer of hope past the noon hour....

...then early afternoon clearing provided anticipation and good cheer....

..and clear counts on the water...

... only to be dashed with the arrival of the front and heavy rains.

Yet, here we counted numerous small birds seeking protection from the rain just like us!

Late afternoon on Davis Creek

Although afternoon temperatures dropped 10 degrees with gusting winds and intermittent rains all afternoon, we covered much ground in Ware Neck with good results. Drying out that evening while tallying our counts we were satisfied with the final bird census of the day. Despite not seeing some familiar birds like vultures and some songbirds, we were pleased with the variety and number of birds that we reported this season.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester